Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the Jewish Home party, is the newest national political leader in Israel — he only won the party leadership in early November — and data from the Times of Israel pre-election poll shows perceptions are still forming about him.
When asked in our survey if they had a positive or negative view of Bennett, 41% of likely voters said positive, 26% said negative, and 33% said they had never heard of him or did not offer an opinion. For Bennett, that means the campaign’s final two weeks offer an opportunity to define himself, with the encouraging data that, when people learn of him, they tend to have a positive perception.
For Bennett’s opponents on the left and the right — he is plainly taking votes from Likud-Beytenu — this is now a race to fill the void of perception about him, or redefine him, in a way that cuts into his support. Our poll shows Jewish Home at 15 seats — a big jump on the three seats it had in the last Knesset, although the party has since merged with part of the National Union (which had four seats).
Our breakdown of Bennett’s support by ideology reveals an unsurprising trend – the further right a voter’s self-described political ideology, the more likely he or she is to have a positive perception of Bennett, with an overwhelming 84% positive view among self-defined very right voters.
The fact that 86% of the self-described very left and 26% of somewhat left voters have never heard of Bennett is likely of no consequence to his campaign. However, his campaign should be alarmed by the fact that 27% of centrist and somewhat right voters have not heard of Bennett or do not offer an opinion of him – the equivalent of approximately 19% of all likely voters or 23 seats in Knesset. Again, the race to define Bennett will be key in the final days of the election campaign.
Bennett, himself an Orthodox Jew, draws widest positive ratings among Orthodox and traditional Jewish voters, with a 79% positive rating among Orthodox Jews and 51% among traditional Jews. Sixty-eight percent of those who were surveyed in Arabic in the Times of Israel poll had not heard of Bennett.
Support for Bennett’s surging Jewish Home party is driven by Orthodox Jews who comprise 64% of his current votes, followed by 20% traditional (masorti), 11% secular and 3% ultra-Orthodox (haredi). Bennett receives no votes from non-Jews.
Bennett vs. Netanyahu
Last month, when Bennett said he would go to jail if necessary rather than follow an IDF order to evacuate settlers, Likud-Beytenu pounced, launching an attack across many media including paid advertising and a round of televised interviews by the prime minister himself. Since then, Likud-Beytenu, in attack after attack, has made clear that its sights are set on Bennett as political enemy number 1. But the attacks don’t appear to have worked — in fact in other public polls Jewish Home has only strengthened while Likud-Beytenu has fallen. Why? Our data suggests that the fight raised Bennett’s name recognition, and didn’t particularly sway right-wing voters from Bennett to Netanyahu because, broadly speaking, the ideological mindset of those who think favorably of Netanyahu and Bennett is so similar.
Although his party is set to become the third-largest in the Knesset, its campaign budget and allotment of television advertising pales in comparison to that of Likud-Beytenu. But when Likud-Beytenu, led by Netanyahu himself, attacks Bennett, it raises his profile for him. It’s free advertising. Some 94% of respondents in our survey have an opinion of Netanyahu; he does not need to raise his profile. Bennett does, and as more people hear about him, our data indicates, more people like him.
Statistically, the ideological composition of likely voters who are favorable to Netanayhu and Bennett is the same. Of those voters who are favorable to Netanyahu, 62% are self described right wing, 29% centrists, and 3% left wing. Of those voters favorable to Bennett, 61% are right wing, 33% centrist, and 3% left wing.
The ideological issue — matters related to security, diplomacy, settlements, Palestinians — does not divide the two personalities. Attacking Bennett on a different issue, revolving around Jewish observance or religious policy, perhaps, might have struck home with some voters, since Orthodox voters comprise 64% of Jewish Home voters but are only 13% of Likud-Beytenu voters.
Bennett would be well advised not to respond — and so far has not really responded — by attacking Netanyahu, because 71% of the voters who are favorable to him are also favorable to the prime minister. With such a positive view of Netanyahu among his total base of potential supporters, Bennett must convince voters who like Netanyahu, nevertheless, to not vote for Netanyahu.
Since Netanyahu’s rating as prime minister among Jewish Home voters is split evenly (51% excellent and good job, to 49% fair and bad job), it is easier for Bennett to attack the prime minister based on his record and policies, rather than personally.
This is the second in a series of nine articles that The Times of Israel is publishing this week on the basis of our pre-election poll. Formulated by The Times of Israel and the author, from political consultancy firm (202) Strategies, with field work conducted by TRI-Strategic Research between December 25 and January 2, our survey is the most accurate publicly available poll to date, having questioned a relatively large sample of 803 likely voters — as opposed to the Hebrew media’s norm of 500 eligible voters. Of those 803, also in contrast to the Hebrew media norm, 10% of our surveys were conducted by cellphone, and another 10% were conducted in Arabic. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5%, with a confidence level of 95%.
Stephan Miller, cited by Campaigns and Elections magazine in 2008 as “James Carville’s young protege,” is an American-Israeli public opinion research analyst and communications strategist, and a former adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who has worked on campaigns in eight countries across three continents.